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Dole-ite: “An Employable Person Who Happens to Be on The Dole”

“You end a relationship and your friends come round with booze and sympathy. You’re unemployed and suddenly the respected wisdom is that feeling sorry for yourself won’t solve anything.”

Work nights out are never much fun, even when they’re your own. But this one I’d agreed to come along to with a mate. It wouldn’t have been all that uncomfortable if it wasn’t for them talking shop so much. As the night moved on, and the conversation refused to, my mind wandered to the thoughts of a bacon butty at home. The clincher came in the form of question: a latecomer arrived, was introduced, and then asked me, just as a lull descended on the group, ‘and what do you do?’

There’s a reason people ask ‘what do you do’ before you’ve barely had a chance to smile at them: it’s the next best thing to asking ‘who are you?’, ‘are you important?’ and ‘is it worth me talking to you?’ all at once. So when the answer to the question is effectively, ‘nothing’ it’s pretty hard to feel good about yourself.

Unemployment regularly features in the most stressful events in life lists: below the death of a family member and going to jail, and competing with ‘the end of a marriage’. Losing money is no doubt a pretty central reason. But that alone can’t account for the slash to well-being that it causes.

Being without a job is one of the few entries in those lists we aren’t able to grieve over. You lose a family member, and there is an outpouring of grief. You end a relationship and your friends come round with booze and sympathy. You’re unemployed and suddenly the respected wisdom is that ‘feeling sorry for yourself won’t solve anything.’

And the more it goes on, the worse it becomes. There’s only one obvious culprit here – you. You are responsible for your own job-search, and by proxy you are responsible for your unemployment. The perpetrator, victim, and solution all stand in the one body. It’s no wonder your friends and family never quite know whether to give you a kick up the arse, a shoulder to cry on, or a wide-berth. If you’re lucky you might get a spectacular combination of all three in one of those exacerbated, half-baked pep talks I’ve got so used to hearing.

Prisoners from Guantamo Bay often refer to not knowing how long they’d be there for as one of the greatest tortures – could it be weeks? months? years? even life? It’s impossible to come to terms with a sentence when you don’t know its length. Further still, with joblessness, every  passing week can feel like yet another point lost in the battle against how people perceive you and how you perceive yourself.

So is there anything that can be done to plug the leaks to your self-esteem, and make you feel a little better? How about try harder; fill in more applications; spend longer looking for jobs; rework your CV again. If this gets me a job, then great, I feel better. But if it doesn’t?  I’ll probably feel worse. Which is not to say I shouldn’t try, just that I shouldn’t expect trying to make me feel any better.

How about volunteering? Now, this will make me feel better. If I’m able to volunteer for something I care about, not only will it improve my employability, it will also give me purpose, and a much better answer to the ‘what do you do?’ question. But it won’t do anything about that itching doubt at the bottom of my stomach asking ‘will I ever get a job?’

So what then? Of course, do all of the above, but above all be kind to yourself. Suffering, as the king of dole-ites, Buddha, loves to remind us, comes from our desire for the world to be different to the way that it actually is. The more we want a job the more unhappy we become at not having one. And that is why unemployment is so difficult to get over – It is not OK that I’m unemployed, and it never will be. But as long as we believe that we will always suffer.

Instead, remind yourself that to a large degree, getting a job is out of your control. If it wasn’t then why would unemployment ever be a problem? People only get over the loss of a relationship when they accept that it won’t be rekindled. We can only get over unemployment if we accept that we might not get a job, for quite a long time. And actually, that might not all be that bad. If you mentally prepare yourself for 6, 12, 18 months out of paid work, then think of all the projects you could start, and commit to.

The less you give a crap about being unemployed, the easier it is to fill out application forms, the more relaxed you become in an interviews, and the easier it is to shrug off another rejection. We’ve known it our whole lives. Meet someone who desperately wants a relationship, and what do we tend to do? Run a mile. Meet someone who seems to really enjoy their life the way it is and what do we do? Hang around them. They seemed to have figured it all out, and maybe you’d quite like them to figure you out a little too.

As the saying goes: ‘you can’t get rid of your fears, but you can learn to live with them.’ So the next time unemployment turns up to take a stab at your well-being, give it a smile, offer it a cup of tea, and tell it it’s ok, you’re accepted here. You never know, after a while it might just stop barking and start purring instead. Maybe it’d even stop trying to bury its poo in the flower bed too.

And if you’re the friend of one us dole-ites? Empathize, sympathize, and be a mate, but just don’t tell us it’ll go away soon, and don’t suggest solutions. After all, solutions imply problems.

Related issues

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

16 Responses to this article

  1. Tonight I was feeling down about the future regarding getting the job I wanted. This had made me feel better. Thank you for writing this.

    Thomas Kingston 28th January 2012 at 11:23 pm
  2. Really good stuff, well done.

    Peter Shelton 6th February 2012 at 10:38 am
  3. I totally disagree with what you are saying towards the end of your story. Employment is not a choice for some but is for others. You’re right, its not OK to be unemployed and never will be but you should never be comfortable being on the dole as this will lead to a way of life. Always fight for work and if it takes a million applications and hundreds of re-worked CVs and cover letters then so be it. I’m an employment consultant and see jobs advertised every day just people are too fussy or feel it is below them, there is nothing below being on JSA. Please stop giving out this sort of advice otherwise we will never be out of the terrible situation the country is in.

    Craig Harker 6th February 2012 at 2:09 pm
  4. Craig, I think society telling us that we are worthless without a job is not a good tactic to motivate people into work. Good teachers have known it their whole careers – tell a student they’re lazy and worthless and you don’t get good results. Show encouragement and love and you’ve got a better chance.
    A second point is that high unemployment rates comes during recessions and not during booms. That simple correlation implies that the primary cause of unemployment is supply of jobs, rather than lack of individual motivation.
    The point I was hoping to make was that by realising the latter, and being kind to yourself to counter the former, you have a better chance of feeling better about yourself which in the end, is a state of mind which is far more likely to result in self-motivation.

    Tom Corbett 7th February 2012 at 11:16 pm
  5. Craig: This period of unemployment for me has nearly killed me. I have applied for well over 2,000 jobs in the last 3 months, and have had only 2 interviews (I’ve management experience, 6+ years excellent customer service + awards for such, and heavy banking experience). It’s not always in our hands, no matter how hard we try.

    This article gave me the first ray of light I’ve seen in rather some time. Instead of lambasting a point because it doesn’t agree with your particular ideology, why not realise the bouyancy it will grant people, who are already drowning in a sea of depression. Why not help throw them a lifeboat, by constructively adding to comments, instead of harpooning ideas you don’t appreciate?

    Ryan Jackson 15th February 2012 at 6:09 pm
  6. I work in, dare I say it… a Jobcentre! I am looking through websites to help me understand my clients feelings and dilemas. Your article is thought provoking and I agree with many points, but the last few points not as much… All I can add is (and I know it’s easy for me to say) Don’t ever give up. Every day look back on what you have acheived so far, get your acheivements out, not just jobs you’ve done, people you’ve helped, courses you’ve finished, hobbies/volunteering you’ve done. It is so easy to put ourselves down especially in todays climate, when you’re having a bad day scout online it’s amazing the hidden jobs you can find, unemployment is horrible but EVERYONE has something to give we all have a Unique Selling Point, find yours and you’re half way there. VERY VERY best of luck to you.

    ANGIE 23rd February 2012 at 12:21 am
  7. I agree with you Craig. My husband is 29 months out of work now, and 29 years old. Staying at home has brought him to the point of believing he “can’t get a job” now. He still tries (applies), but his efforts are sporadic, and even his part-time community college classes are not leading him in an upward direction because he doesn’t follow through with its planning. I think its important to not give up (to the couch, tv, or whatever it may be for you). Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t allow yourself to belive its ok to float around. Stay motivated, give yourself a break when you’ve been let down, and keep trying.

    Jen R 5th March 2012 at 6:27 am
  8. My partner lost his job following a bout of depression after the death of his mum. Nearly 3 years down the line after recovery, volunteerwork, retraining and temporary retail jobs, countless applications and numberous interviews; he still can’t get his careerback on track. No one will give him a chance and it gets worse as time goes on. I agree with everything Craig has said.
    It’s all very well job centre people and recruitment consultants giving all their advice but frankly my partner has followed it . If you are male in this society and you have had a tough time you are seen as a lesser person. It’s all very well subscribing to this website and saying that it’s a scandal that young men are committing suicide etc but if your advice and beliefs are still “pull your socks up” then you need to take a good hard look at yourself. You need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk

    AT 9th March 2012 at 12:44 pm
  9. AT – Never presume ANYONE is just talking the talk without walking the walk. You never know the next persons background or life experience until they tell you, if you ask. Don’t judge a person on where they work just because of your own experiences. Everyone is different and I would personally never advice anyone to ‘pull their socks up’ it is nearly as bad as saying ‘pull yourself together’ I have the knowledge and experience to know if most people could, they would. Hopefuly that is why I can make a difference in the job I do.

    ANGIE 22nd May 2012 at 11:39 pm
  10. Okay- Craig Harkess seriously has no clue, or perhaps he was born with a silver spoon up his arse? The top-down policies HAVE bled into everyman’s existence, and have distilled into a dichotomy of the desire for freedom, and then on the other hand, the urge to squeeze ourselves into a vulgar, and yet seemingly necessary drag.
    The power is in the slant of this article – what is necessary for job-hunters today?-Peace. To reflect upon what our core-beliefs can be.

    Jade O'Hanlon 27th June 2012 at 11:00 am
  11. It amuses me when employment advisors make suggestions, repeating mantras to justify their own existence.
    Volunteer? I live on under £40 per week. My JSA was cut, as I am in receipt of Industrial Injury Benefit. Unfortunately , I don’t see this as my ex-wife takes it as child maintenance. I couldn’t afford the bus fare to volunteer.
    I’m over 50 and don’t even get interviews. Fuck you, fuck you all. The best job you could think of getting was to tell other people to get a job. Sanctimonious, patronising bastards.

    RM 1st August 2012 at 10:29 am
  12. RM How I would love to meet you and let you vent your anger to my face . You should perhaps go into politics, you have the right attitude & some passion (which is what many of them are lacking!). I have never been described as sanctimonious or patronising, or a bastard for that matter, so thanks for that. It made me smile. In fact, to my face, I have never had any agression despite the challenging and desperate situations my clients find themselves in; perhaps that is because they can hear the words I speak & know that I do not & will not walk away (as you can from your computer). For that IS easy. You MAY give up on yourself, but I will NEVER give up on the clients I serve. So I won’t be adopting your mantra “Fuck You fuck you all” unquote!

    ANGIE 7th February 2013 at 1:11 am
  13. I am on the dole,i fuckin love it,no more crappy boss tellin me what to do,spend my time with my three year old boy watching him grow,much more important than driving shitty lorry,all the hassle with vosa and police.

    phil 2nd October 2013 at 2:09 pm

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